Delivering Effective Customer Training: Part 1
In the first part of this article, we explored one-on-one consulting and in person seminars as two ways of delivering customer training. In this one, we will discuss online webinars and written documentation.
Webinars are a very popular form of training, simply because they offer many of the benefits of in-person training at a much lower cost. Because they don't require everybody to be in the same room, they eliminate the travel time and administrative hassles inherent to in-person training.
Validately, a software startup that helps companies test new products and prototypes, uses webinars effectively. Instead of focusing on how to use the product, their webinars give users tips on how to conduct better usability testing and moderate user sessions. They understand that few customers want to sit through a webinar if they're not walking away with a new skill. Unfortunately, webinars are also too often used as marketing tools. "Webinars are huge [among] Saas [Software-as-a-Service companies]," Lincoln Murphy, Founder and Principal at Sixteen Ventures, explains. "When else do you get to have a 60 minute commercial?" This is often a huge issue. Companies treat their webinars as 60 minutes of commercial time, while their audience grows bored or just returns to work. Effective webinars should provide value on their own.
For example, a webinar teaching users how to be more successful operations managers is more valuable than a webinar that just teaches people how to use a specific task management tool. In addition, webinars have a fundamental conflict that in-person training does not. While both suffer from the same scheduling challenges -everybody needs to be present to deliver the information live -webinars don't have the benefit of providing users with face-to-face interaction, thus lacking the collaborative opportunities and sense of community provided by both in-person seminars and online courses.
Use Webinars To Supplement Training, Not Drive It
As with the other methods, you don't have to abandon webinars entirely. Having a monthly scheduled webinar where you deliver short, informative pieces of content to users can be a great way to keep people up-to-date with your company. It also allows you to have a live Q&A session with your users where people can ask questions or give feedback on your product. Don't rely exclusively on webinars for core training, though. A productive approach involves taking the material you might otherwise include in a webinar and turning it into an online class, which can engage learners and create the sense of community that webinars can't mimic. This will eliminate many scheduling difficulties and allow new customers to work at their own pace from anywhere in the world.
You can also monitor learner progress as they take your course, pinpointing bottlenecks in your content. These bottlenecks can serve as the subject matter for a future, drill-down style webinar. On a final note, consider offering special webinars with noted experts in your field as a bonus for your customers. The chance to meet authors or learn new tips from Subject Matter Experts that your customers respect is a powerful incentive for people to spend an hour a month connecting with your company. You can later edit the webinar recording into different segments and incorporate those in your online courses.
Written documentation is still alive and well in the form of knowledge bases, FAQs, and in line 'help' documents. High-quality written documentation is searchable, well categorized, and easy for users to access. It can also be delivered right at the point of pain-when users are struggling with a particular aspect of your product, you have a small piece of helpful content available to help them learn how to accomplish their goal.
Unfortunately, most written documentation is dense, out of date, and not very engaging. Poorly written documentation means customers are more likely to call support when encountering a problem, rather than trying to repair it themselves.
Even when written documentation covers every foreseeable loophole and glitch, not all customers learn most effectively from reading printed material. According to Neil Fleming, a teacher and researcher who observed over 9,000 classroom lessons before creating the VARK model of learning, people adhere to at least one of four key 'learning styles': visual, auditory, reading-writing, and tactile learning. Trying to teach a kinesthetic or auditory learner through written documentation is inefficient at best, thus opening the door for technology to enhance your product documentation.
Repurpose Your Written Documentation
A convenient aspect of your written documentation is that you likely have a large amount of it, and this kind of content is easy to update, unlike webinars or in person seminars. Written documentation is also searchable, which makes it good for troubleshooting when users are stuck trying to accomplish a particular task.
However, it could be even more productive if you repurpose your documentation, reworking existing content into course form using online course building software.
You will very quickly begin to see a more informed customer base. A 2013 IBM study found that a group of online learners absorbed nearly five times more material than an instructor-led group, so repurposing this written documentation in online course form gives customers a chance to train thoroughly before they even begin using your product. Course building software today makes it easy to add text, videos and other kinds of multimedia content, separate content into activities and sections or lessons, and later quiz learners on what they've retained.
So, since your company has already created the content, using online training courses to sustain your onboarding process is easily manageable. Best of all, your written documentation isn't going anywhere, and can be accessed for client support on an ad hoc basis.
If you want to know more about delivering effective customer training, download the free eBook Building Effective Customer Education Programs.